Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A daily Vinyasakrama practice. From Mr Ramaswami's Sept. Newsletter

Given the relevance to my last couple of posts on this topic, I'm reproducing, with permission, the complete article from Mr Ramaswami's September Newsletter.


From September's newsletter

Most of the readers of this newsletter have studied Vinyasakrama Asana
practice with me for varying durations, a weekend program, a weeklong
Core Vinyasa program, a 60 hour complete Vinyasa Yoga program or the
200 hour Teacher Training Schedule. Many people see something unique
about this system, somewhat different from the contemporary mainstream
yoga. Most have read the “Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga” book and
finally ask the question, what next? How can I do a daily practice
from these sequences? There are more than 700 asanas/vinyasas and I
normally recommend doing each vinyasa three times. At the rate of
about 4/5 movements per minute (it could be even 3 per minute for good
breathers), it could take about 8 to 9 hours to do the complete
vinyasakrama. Then my Guru would commend doing a short stint of
Pranayama, say for about 15 to 30 mts and then chanting or meditation
for another 15 to 30 mts, daily. We also have to consider that in
asana practice, there are a few heavy weight poses which require one
to stay for a long time. So it is almost impossible to practice all of
it everyday even by a full time ‘practice-live-and-sleep-in-yoga mat’
yogi. The book was written to give as complete as possible, a
presentation of all the vinyasas in a series of sequences that is
logical and easy to learn, as I learnt from my Guru. It is a book for
learning the system. Any serious student of yoga who would spend years
studying and teaching yoga should have in one’s repertoire as many
asanas, vinyasas and logical sequences (krama) as possible. So, one
should firstly study the entire range of asanas and vinyasas of the
vinyasakrama system from a teacher say in the 60 hr vinyasakrama
program. Then note down all the vinyasas that are a bit difficult to
do. One should practice daily for half hour to one hour as many
vinyasas as possible following the recommended sequence, with special
emphasis on the difficult ones. In about six months to one year of
consistent practice one would be comfortable with the system, the
sequences and especially the required synchronous breathing. This
would complete the learning process. Then one may prepare a green list
of asanas and vinyasas one would be able to do and wants to practice
regularly. There will be another list, amber list which would contain
those vinyasas which are difficult now but one would like to practice
them even if they are somewhat imperfect. Then there would be another
red list which will contain procedures that are not appropriate or
possible for the practitioner—which could probably be taken up in the
next janma. Then it would be time for concentrating on using
vinyasakrama for daily practice and also teaching to individuals for
their daily yoga practice.

Adapting yoga to individual requirements is an art by itself. We must
understand that there is no one standard practice that is suitable to
everyone. In medicine you have to give different treatment to
different patients; what is suitable to one suffering from digestive
problem would be different from the one that is suitable for one who
is suffering from some low back pain. According to an important motto
of Krishnamacharya, yoga for children and the adolescents (growth
stage) is different from yoga practice in their midlife which again is
different from the practice in old age. The body, mind and goals
change during different stages of life. Sri Krishnamacharya’s teaching
is based on this principle as we could discern from his works, Yoga
Makaranda and Yoga Rahasya.
Basically yoga for kids and young adults will have a considerable
amount of asana vinyasa practice -- many vinyasas, difficult poses,
etc. It will help them to work out the considerable rajas in their
system and proper growth (vriddhi). Of course they should also
practice some pranayama and meditation or chanting. For the midlife
yogi, the practice will still include some asana, but specifically
some of the health giving and restorative postures like the
Inversions, Paschimatanasana, Mahamudra, etc., in which poses one may
be required to stay for a longer period of time. There will be more
emphasis on Pranayama and then more meditation, chanting, worship etc.
When I started studying with my Guru I was 15 years old. During the
beginning years of my study it was mostly difficult asanas and
vinyasas. Swing throughs, jump arounds, utplutis etc and other fun
filled unique sequences were the order of the day. As I grew up, my
teacher slowly but surely changed the mix, focus and direction of my
yoga practice. On the last day I was with him (I was close to 50 then)
it was just chanting of Surya Namaskara (Aruna) mantras for the entire
duration with him. During the third stage of life, the old age, the
emphasis is usually spiritual and/or devotional even as one is
required to do some simple movements and pranayama.
And within the group, the daily practice can be varying depending upon
the requirements and goals set forth by the yogi for herself/himself.
For instance, for the midlife yogi, the main goal will be to maintain
good physical and mental health, rather than being able to stand, say,
on one leg or even on one hand (Of course the child in me wants to do
that). He/She would like to avoid risky movements so that the practice
would be safe and does not cause injuries—immediate or cumulative. Too
much exertion (kayaklesa), like several rounds of continuous,
breathless Suryanamaskaras again should be avoided, says Brahmananda
in his commentary on Hatayogapadipika. A few may be more inclined to
have some spirituality thrown in. Many would like to develop the
ability to and the habit of visiting the peace zone of the mind daily.
There are some who are more rajasic or tamasic in which case the mix
of asana and pranayama should be properly adjusted, sometimes taking
care of even the day to day variations of the gunas. It requires some
careful attention in deciding a particular day’s practice. Hence, to
suggest a practice of a set of asanas or a routine for everyone
irrespective of the age, condition, temperament and goal is incorrect.
Such an approach does not take into consideration not only the
versatility and richness of orthodox, traditional vinyasakrama yoga
practice but also does not take the varying factors of individual
requirements. Sri Krishnamacharya’s yoga can appropriately be termed
as ‘Appropriate Yoga’.
However, as a general rule, for the serious mid-life yogi, a daily
practice of about 90 mts to 2 hrs will be necessary and sufficient.
Here is modifiable one. After a short prayer, one could do a brief
stint of Tadasana doing the main vinyasas two or preferably three
times each. It should take about ten minutes. Then one subsequence in
the asymmetric could be taken up, say Marichyasana or Triyangmukha or
the half lotus. The choice may be varied on a daily basis. Five minute
stay in Paschimatanasana and the counter poses may be practiced. Then
one may do preparation of Sarvangasana and a brief stay in it,
followed by headstand stay for about 5 to 10 minutes or more and then
staying in Sarvangasana for 5 to 10 more minutes, if one can do
inversions. Paschimatanasana, Sarvangaana and Headstand are to be
practiced preferably daily for their health benefits. If time permits
one may do few vinyasas in these inversions. One may do a subsequence
of Triangle pose like warrior pose and /or one sequence in one legged
pose. Mahamudra for about 5 minutes each on both sides can then be
practiced. Why are these important? In an earlier article I had tried
to explain the unique health benefits of the twin inversions. . In
fact the inversions, Sirsasana and Sarvangasana are mudras, the
viparitakarani mudras. I remember my Guru asking us to do
Paschimatanasana sequence quite often-- it is said to be an important
pose for Kundalini Prabhoda, especially when the bandhas are also done
and the pelvic muscles/floor are drawn towards the back. You could
also observe that Paschimatanasan helps to stretch all the muscles and
tissues in the posterior portion (as the name of the asana indicates)
of the body where there are heavy muscles--thighs calves, glutei etc.
Mahamudra as the name indicates is considered to be the best/great of
Mudras. It is believed that it helps to direct the prana into the
sushumna as it is supposed to block the ida and pingala separately.
Aided by Jalandharabandha, it also helps to keep the spine straight
Then sitting in Vajrasana or Padmasana after doing some movements one
should do a suitable variant of Kapalabhati, say for about 108 times
and then an appropriate Pranayama, Ujjayi, Nadisodhana or Viloma with
or without mantras for about 15 minutes to be followed by five minutes
Shanmukhimudra and then chanting or meditation of about 15 minutes.
The efficacy of Pranayama on the whole system and mind cannot be
overemphasized. Please read the article on “Yoga for the Heart”, in an
earlier newsletter... It refers to the benefits of Pranayama to the
heart and the circulatory system.
If interested, one may allocate an additional 30 minutes (or practice
at another time in the day, say, in the evening) during which time one
may practice a few subroutines from the other scores of sequences that
have not been included in this core yoga practice. Even though the
book contains 10 main sequences, the reader will be able to discern
more than a hundred asana sequences, each one having a unique
structure. In fact each chapter is a major sequence (wave) of many
specific sequences (ripples), which itself is made up of a few vinyaas
(dops of water). Then the whole book is a mega sequence (tide) of
major sequences in the ocean of Yoga. If you take Tadasana itself,
there are firstly the hasta vinyasas, then, parsva bhangis, different
uttanasanas, utkatasana, pasasana and finally the tadasana. Each
subroutine itself may have anywhere between 3 to even 20 vinyasas. So
there is considerable versatility in the system. It is better to stick
to the integrity of the subroutines (like Ushtrasana, Virabhadrasana
or Vrikshasana for instance), as enunciated in the book. Thus we have
a variable component and a fixed component in the daily practice.
Everyday before the start of the practice the yogi should take a
minute and decide on a definite agenda and as far as possible try to
stick to the agenda. What asanas and vinyasas, which pranayama and how
many rounds and other details should be determined before hand and one
should adhere to it. It brings some discipline and coherence to one’s
practice. It is customary to end the practice with peace chant.

Adapting vinyasakrama to individual requirements can be termed as
viniyoga krama. For instance when my Guru gets a middle aged person or
a nine year old with specific condition like scoliosis, he would
design a specific program to the individual requirement. Almost
everyone who comes to him will have a routine developed which will not
be the one that is given to someone else. I have written about the
family class we had with my Guru when we started learning from him.
During the same time period he would teach different vinyasas, poses
and procedures to each one of us, my older father, my somewhat heavy-
set mother, my supple, talented younger sister, my more challenged
brother and me. One reason why people nowadays look for a definite
routine is because a few of the more popular vinyasa systems have a
very small number of regimented sequences which are taught over and
over again almost to all students. So there is a mindset that there
should be a rigid sequence that is applicable for everyone, but that
is not the way we learnt yoga from my Guru. Firstly the teacher should
learn the whole system and then apply it to individuals as per the
requirements -- pick and choose those vinyasa sequences, pranayama and
meditation practices, dietary requirements, etc.. The question that is
to be answered is what does the practitioner want/need and how should
the yoga routine be designed to get the required benefit. Vinyasakrama
is like a yoga supermarket, and each one should put into the cart what
one needs. And the term Vinyasakrama includes not just asanas but also
other aspects of yoga like pranayama, meditation, etc. It is a
progression of different aspects of Yoga. The Vinyasakrama has a huge
collection of asana vinyasas, a well stocked section on Pranayama,
then the meditation department and a spiritual study/contemplation
section as well. So a lot of initiative should be taken by the
individual consumer, like our practitioner who should take the
responsibility of working out with the teacher how to design an
intelligent purposeful yoga practice pertaining to oneself. To reduce
Vinyasakrama to a standard routine as is done with several other
contemporary Vinyasa systems and put it in a straight jacket is not
desirable. I have explained these ideas to many participants of the
longer versions of the programs and thought to touch upon them for the
general reader who would be wondering how to force the VK elephant (or
a camel) into the needle’s eye of daily practice.

There are some friends who after completing the program take a few
private lessons to tailor-make the VK system to their requirements. We
discuss about their physical conditions and mental makeup, age,
obesity, pulse rate, blood pressure, breath rate and breathing
constraints, general disposition, time availability, stress levels,
etc., and design a routine for their benefit. Because there is a
bewildering array of vinyasas, pranayama methods, mantras, etc., we
have a better choice of designing and fine-tune a program suitable to
the particular individual. If there is problem with VK it is a problem
of plenty.
There are a few serious practitioners who have their daily routine cut
out, but then do the complete vinyasakrama separately say in the
evening for about an hour so that they could go through all the
vinyasa sequences in a span of one week. In vedic chanting, the
Taittiriya saka , consists of about 80+ chapters and it would take
about 40 to 45 hours to chant the whole. Those who have learnt the
entire Taittiriya Saka duing their childhood, have to keep chanting
them all their lives. They do it by doing chanting for about 1 to 1 ½
hours per day so that they could complete it in a Mandala or about 40
days. Similarly Carnatic musicians learn several songs, but for their
practice they take a few songs per day and over a period of several
weeks they would cover all the songs they had learnt. Likewise the
yoga practice can be varied and rich. The rich variety makes it
possible to maintain abiding interest in a personal Yoga Practice at
home. It does not become a chore.
A list of more than 120 asana vinyasa routines contained in the book,
“The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga” is added as a post script. Based
on the discussion above on the criteria for daily practice you may
decide on your daily routine by picking specific asana sequences and
have a unique program made specifically for you and by you every day.
Please stick to the integrity of the sequences in the asana. If you
teach, you may modify them for persons who are sick or physically
challenged. Pranayama, inversions, paschimatana mahamudra and
meditation may be included for sure. You have myriad possibilities.
There is no one rigid universal daily practice routine in Vinyasakrama
as I have explained.

Srivatsa Ramaswami

If you would like to read articles contained in previous newsletters
here is the link

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